Conservationists in Melanesia mourn death of colleague

Posted on 26 March 2008
Henri Blaffart, talented conservationist of New Caledonia
© WWF Ahab Downer

Conservationists in the Melanesia area are mourning the death of Belgian-born botanist Henri Blaffart, swept away in by a flooded river in northern New Caledonia on March 21.

“Henri Blaffart was an exceptional man, and an remarkably effective wildlife and wildlands conservation professional,” said WWF New Caledonia Country Programme Director Ahab Downer, who survived the river crossing.

Blaffart, 42, had worked in Africa, Samoa, Papua New Guinea before coming to New Caledonia, where he worked for environment group Conservation International (CI). CI and WWF are involved in a number of joint programmes in the Pacific.

"Since the inception of the WWF New Caledonia bureau, Henri was a key partner and never hesitated to assist WWF efforts to accompany those he was himself  championing," Downer said. "Henri generously shared the Hienghène offices he established with WWF field personnel, and made every conceivable effort to advance our common terrestrial and marine conservation goals and projects."

“Henri was a truly devoted professional as well as a joyous and wonderful human being,” said Claude Gascon, CI’s executive vice president for regional programs, who recently climbed Mont Panié with Blaffart.

Downer paid tribute to “Henri's tireless efforts to catalyse collaboration and collective forest preservation through concrete conservation projects and inspired ecotourism initiatives”. He also said it was a tragedy that Blaffart had not seen the imminent creation of northern New Caledonia's first marine protected areas “for which he will have been in large part  responsible”.

“Henri has left his mark in the form of mountain top refuges for hikers and scientists, a series of lengthy and well demarcated walking paths, and a myriad of accompanying melanesian tribe supported nature tourism initiatives,” Downer said.

“Against all odds, Henri also managed to federate some 16 melanesian tribes and other members into the Dayu Biik Association which is playing a crucial role in spreading awareness of sustainable forest preservation strategies.

Blaffart is survived by his mother and sister, both living in Belgium.

“While he has sadly departed the mist shrouded forest of the the Mont Panié forests, his spirit will continue to live on in the heart and minds of those touched by his humanity, and the exceptional natural heritage he so passionately protected,” Downer said.

Henri Blaffart, talented conservationist of New Caledonia
© WWF Ahab Downer Enlarge